The US Department of Transportation has banned Chinese airlines from flying to the US from mid-June in retaliation for a Chinese decision to deny US airlines from resuming flights to and from China. The order states a date of 16 June, but this could be applied sooner by President Donald Trump.
The DOT order reads in summary:
“The US Department of Transportation (the Department), responding to the failure of the government of the People’s Republic of China (China) to permit US carriers to exercise the full extent of their bilateral right to conduct scheduled passenger air services to and from China, is suspending the scheduled passenger operations of all Chinese carriers to and from the United States. This order will become effective on June 16, 2020, unless effective sooner [through presidential order].”
Delta Air Lines and United Airlines applied to the Civil Aviation Authority of China (CAAC) for authority to resume numerous passenger flights between the countries last month. The airlines had suspended the routes earlier this year due to the global coronavirus pandemic. The CAAC denied their requests.
That agency in March restricted flights between China and other nations, allowing foreign airlines to operate just one flight weekly to China. CAAC’s order also prohibited carriers from adding more capacity than they had in schedules on 12 March, a date on which US airlines had no China flights due to coronavirus, the DOT order said.
Traffic between the two countries is governed by the US-China Civil Air Transport Agreement, signed in 1980, which establishes rights for carriers from both countries to provide air transport between the US and China.
“The government of China has, over the objections of the US government, impaired the operating rights of US carriers and denied US air carriers the fair and equal opportunity to exercise their operating rights under the agreement,” the DOT order said. “Our overriding goal is not the perpetuation of this situation, but rather an improved environment wherein the carriers of both parties will be able to exercise fully their bilateral rights.
“We conclude that these circumstances require the department’s action to restore a competitive balance and fair and equal opportunity among US and Chinese air carriers in the scheduled passenger service marketplace.”
The order takes effect on 16 June, the DOT said.
Delta Air Lines said on 3 June that it “appreciates” the pressure the US government is exercising on China, “to enforce our rights and ensure fairness”. The airline said it applied to begin flying on 1 June but has postponed that date because Chinese authorities have not approved the applications. “Our currently pending application is to begin flying on June 11,” the airline added.
United said, “We look forward to resuming passenger service between the United States and China when the regulatory environment allows us to do so.”
Chinese airlines had continued flying a limited schedule between the countries throughout the pandemic despite American carriers being denied access. China Eastern Airlines is the top carrier to and from the US. Air China, China Southern Airlines, Hainan Airlines and Xiamen Airlines also connect the countries.
The DOT adds it “has learned through diplomatic channels” that some of those carriers have been circumventing rules and further distorting competition by declaring numerous flights between the two countries as charter flights for repatriation purposes, when in truth they were normal commercial passenger operations.
DOT said it will review future applications by Chinese airlines for charter flights “with the highest degree of scrutiny”.